Ghana needs biotech intervention to improve food security
By Bertha Badu-Agyei
There is hunger on the faces of many people, and signs of malnutrition evident in kwashiorkor.
In many parts of the country anaemia and stunted growth are common phenomena. However, the many preventable and avoidable diseases that kill children indicate that as a country we need an intervention to improve food security.
Food security is when meal is in abundance and every person across the country gets something to eat not in quantity but in quality to boost their energy and immune system.
This will make it possible for them to be able to withstand infections and diseases that may affect their health, education and even life itself.
The World Bank and the World Food Organisation defines food security as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active and healthy life.
Food security therefore by the global standard is that all people irrespective of their origin at all times have both the physical and economic access to adequate supplies of good quality and safe food needed for a healthy and active life.
Food security therefore indicates availability, accessibility, affordability, safety, quality and high nutritional value of food and modern biotechnology offers useful tools and interventions for reducing food insecurity through increasing productivity while reducing farm lands under cultivation.
Agriculture in Ghana has been mainly subsistence farming.
Over the years there have been measures and calls for improving the agriculture sector, by shifting from manpower farming to mechanised agriculture practice which encourages the use of technology to provide food in abundance for the people.
Irrigation has been identified as one surest intervention of improving agriculture to ensure that farming, based on the rain patterns, become a thing of the past so that all year round, people could farm to provide adequate and quality food for the people including children who needs highly nutritious food to grow and triumph in education.
Ghana’s agriculture sector which is the mainstay of the economy continues to rely on the two major seasons to plant and harvest crops to feed Ghanaians and that has increased the nation’s dependence on importation of foodstuff such as rice, plantain and tomatoes from neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso.
Recently some Members of Parliament were reported to have urged the government to invest heavily in agriculture to improve food security and the welfare of farmers as well as their dependents to reflect on the economic stature of the country.
The Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa ((OFAB), an initiative of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, an African-led charity designed to facilitate and promote public/private partnership, for the access and delivery of appropriate technologies with potential to increase productivity of resource poor smallholder farmers in the sub Saharan Africa, is advocating an intervention called modern biotechnology.
With population growth rate, drought, climate change, impoverished soils, change in taste and lifestyle, biotechnology which is defined as a scientific method to produce genetically modified crops resistant to pests and diseases and increased yields would complement breeding efforts to ensure food security.
Biotechnology is simply the biofortification of agricultural products to facilitate food quality by ensuring increasing nutritional quality, enhancing protein, vitamins and micronutrients content of crops to help improve the health status of consumers.
The biotechnology culture has been proved by scientists to have resistance in maize and cotton against bacteria attacks while rice can be enrich with protein to address malnutrition.
The technology can be used to delay ripening thereby reducing waste and cost in some farming produce.
Biotechnology offers useful tools for reducing food security through increasing productivity while reducing farmland under cultivation, use of disease and pest resistance crops to reduce food safety challenges due to high use of pesticides.
It also helps the online detection of pathogens during food processing.
This type of detection through modern biotechnology practice has been proved to enhance Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points systems currently employed by food processing industries.
Addressing a day’s seminar for farmers by OFAB Ghana chapter in Koforidua, Dr Margaret Atikpo, the focal person of the OFAB Ghana Chapter, said government had passed the biotechnology bill after strenuous scrutiny and that was an indication that the Executive was satisfied with the benefits that the people would derive.
She allayed the fears of farmers that it is a foreign culture that would have long term health hazards on farmers and even the consuming public, adding that strenuous and painstaking research had been used to establish its benefits.
Dr Atikpo emphasised that biotechnology among its enormous benefits to food security would also to a large extent improve the welfare of farmers thereby reduce poverty.
Professor Kwame Offei, Provost of the College of Agriculture, University of Ghana, on a Ghana Television Breakfast Show said modern biotechnology is an alternative to food security.
He said the country need to embrace it for the simple reasons that “it will increase yield and reduce use of chemicals on our farms”.
He noted that the fears of biotechnology that had been expressed variedly were largely based on perception and not reality.
However, Professor Offei cautioned that if biotechnology is not handled well it could be misused to the disadvantage of the nation.
He therefore called for continuous education and sensitisation on the need for biotechnology as well adherence to the tenets of its embracement.